The Maturity of Ratchet and Clank

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  • Confession: I never played the original Ratchet and Clank. I played Going Commando as a Blockbuster rental before buying and playing the majority of the series, but I never played the original. This week I sort of put that final feather in my cap when I got to play Ratchet and Clank, the game based on the movie based on the game. I love this game – it’s a lot of fun! – but this reboot/HD Remake/film adaptation loses something that the series took a lot of time to learn: maturity.

    While the Ratchet and Clank series as a whole isn’t known for its gravitas or incisive social commentary, it is easy to forget that Ratchet has grown up a lot over the last 15-ish years. The lovable lombax went from an impetuous teen who didn’t bother wearing shoes (or a shirt) to a reflective galactic protector with an evolving set of personal values. While he never missed an opportunity for a wisecrack, he certainly matured, if only a little.

    Ratchet’s emotional evolution is exemplified in Into the Nexus, at the end of which Ratchet has just lost his last, best chance to be reunited with his species. Though he could have selfishly used the dimensionator to find his people, he used it to save the galaxy. Instead mourning succumbing to anger, Ratchet chuckles about his lot in life, and reflects that people currently in his life are more valuable to him than those he’s never met. This reflective quality is totally lacking in the Ratchet of the early 2000’s and is the apotheosis of his development as a protagonist.

    None of this maturity and self-seriousness ever got in the way of the jokes either. Into the Nexus knew that it could have fun with its disco ball grenades, snowman creating beams, over the top villains and general silliness. Ratchet has been through a lot and the loss of the dimensionator isn’t the first time that Ratchet has had to give up on his dream of being with his people. This is why it’s jarring to be taken to a Ratchet who is at the beginning of his journey and still unsure of himself.

    This is why it takes a such a subtle hand when it comes to reboots and remakes. Throwing processing power and modern graphics at an older game does can revitalize its “gameplay” but does nothing to address the development of characters as agents with feelings and desires. It’s important to understand that though a game can be remade, the memories of its predecessor cannot. A re-imagining doesn’t only have to concern itself with respecting the original, it has to respect the entire canon.

    This is not to say that this re-imagining isn’t an amazing amount of fun – it is. A Ratchet and Clank game has never looked so good and never played so well. In many ways it’s the most realized version of what Insomniac Games has been trying to do for the last 15 years. But for all it’s technical prowess and stunning graphics, I cannot help but remember the lombax that I grew up with.

    Bloodlines, Games